When I noticed that Kathryn Gordon who just published Les Petits Macarons (Running Press, Fall 2011) with co-author Anne E. Mc Bride lived in New Jersey as I do, I thought a face to face interview had to happen.
I met Kathryn for a Macaron Chat at the local Panera.
Here's our conversation.
Q: Kathryn, when and where did you have your first macaron?
It must have been at Rainbow Room in 1995. There was a Jacques Torres connection via the chef and also a Francois Paillard one in the sense that a number of the pastry chefs at time used macaron recipes from Pascal Brunstein, M.O.F as their inspiration. His book was Les Plaisirs des Petits Fours, or something like that. The recipes I've seen from Kurt Walrath (my boss @ The Rainbow Room and Tavern on the Green) were from there, and similar to what I did with Herve Poussot at Le Bernardin and Windows on the World). After Kurt left Le Cirque as over two years pastry sous chef, Francois Payard took the job briefly and then went to Le Bernardin. Herve took it from him...
Q: Is there a macaron phenomenon-culture as is case with cupcakes?
People draw parallels between macarons and cupcakes. Both pastries are small. The 'purest' expression of that all macarons model is Bisous, Ciao in New York which sells only macarons, no drinks, no other pastries.
Q: Did your website 'Les Petits Macarons' pre-date the book or is it an extension of it?
Our site Les Petits Macarons was launched when book came out, it functions a bit like the B-side on a music single. Many recipes because of space constraints did not make the final cut so the website allows us to share these along with videos, macaron themed paraphranelia and other oddities.
Q: What was your main practical aim with the book?
We wanted to keep recipes consistent by sticking to a certain methodology. Variations, twists and tricks can be found in opening and closing pages.
Q: Your advice to macaron rookies, where to start and name main reason for a failed macaron batch?
Besides reading the book, rookies should start by watching the video on Les Petits Macarons and also check our Facebook page. The main reason for a failed batch is the oven because of varying-uneven heat. Best way to prevent this is, once macaron batch is ready to bake, to pipe a couple of macarons on baking sheet and put oven to the test. I call it the canari in the oven. I also recommend the 2 sheet trick (double layered baking sheets) which helps distribute the heat more evenly.
Q: How would you describe eating a macaron, the sensual side?
First you feel that crackling shell then you get to its moist, not chewy inner core, I don't like chewy. There has to be a good balance between shell and filling.
Q: Is it good to have pre-made macaron shells and fillings and play with different combinations?
Yes, a good way to do it is to divide batch into different bowls and add color or spice to each of them. I once brought various choices that people could then pair to a party and it turned out to be fun for everyone.
Q: How long do batches last?
It all varies, you will have to check the book depending on options. You can put macarons in freezer until you use them. Once you take them out of freezer, do it in stages, first put batch in fridge then out so they keep their consistency. As for fillings buttercream and chocolate ganache are good ones to freeze.
Q: Matches made in heaven?
Sometimes it will be seasonal. A few of my favorites are hazelnut macarons with pear pate de fruit filling. Heading into the holidays, mint macaron with mint chocolate ganache strikes the right cord. I also highly recommend 5 spice macaron with pumpkin buttercream.
Q: Where is your fan base?
I am not sure. The book is now in its 4th reprint and has gained an audience as far as Australia. A copy has also been requested by Gourmand Book Awards in Paris.
Q: If macarons were a creature, what would they be?
I think 'koala bear'. Like koala bears, macarons are cute, cudly. You want to pick them up. Some people get emotionally attached to macarons, get comfort from them.
Q: Name some of your macaron hotspots?
I would start with Bisous, Ciao...Their vanilla bean macaron is best ever even better than anything I had in Paris. I also like Pierre Herme.
Q: Last, besides writing this book what are you busy with?
Amongst other things, I give macaron classes at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York. They accomodate up to 16 students and sell out fast. Macarons and steaks are fastest sellers for classes. I also have been offering walking tours of Macaron Landscape in New York. They last up to 3 hours with groups of 12 to 20 people.
You can register for these tours via ICE website. I don't offer these tours in summer when macarons can get into a meltdown.
Thanks Kathryn for your time.
(* Photos by Steve Legato)